Exactly no one was surprised on Jan. 2, 1960, when Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy stood under the crystal chandeliers in the red-carpeted caucus room of the Senate Office Building. He announced his candidacy for president of the United States.
He was tanned and rested after a two-week vacation in Jamaica. His wife Jackie and his brother Bobby stood with him in the historic old room. So did 300 other people, half friends and supporters, half reporters.
Senator John Kennedy Non-Announces
Kennedy’s remarks started at 12:30 pm. He finished shortly thereafter on a note of hopeful heroism. “I have developed an image … of the American people as confident, courageous and persevering,” he said.
It wasn’t new. Kennedy had been saying things like that for months as he’d barnstormed across the country.
And as his press secretary Pierre Salinger recalled, an enterprising UPI reporter already broke the story two weeks earlier.
The reporter was wandering around the nearly empty Senate Office Building when he heard a clatter from Kennedy’s robotype room. A robotype is an automatic typewriter that produces thousands of letters and mailing labels.
The reporter then picked up one of the letters. It began, “I am announcing on January 2 my candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination.”
The reporter knew he had a story. As soon as it hit the wire, reporters besieged Salinger seeking confirmation. He said Senator Kennedy hadn’t decided yet. He also said the unsigned draft published by UPI “is but one of a number of drafts covering all possible eventualities concerning the senator’s decision.” Salinger then added he had “grave doubts” the senator had even seen it.
One newspaper editorialized it had “grave doubts about the future of Salinger’s job.” Salinger had no worries.
The Full Statement
I am announcing today my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.
The Presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life. For it is in the Executive Branch that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made in the next four years–how to end or alter the burdensome arms race, where Soviet gains already threaten our very existence–how to maintain freedom and order in the newly emerging nations–how to rebuild the stature of American science and education–how to prevent the collapse of our farm economy and the decay of our cities–how to achieve, without further inflation or unemployment, expanded economic growth benefiting all Americans–and how to give direction to our traditional moral purpose, awakening every American to the dangers and opportunities that confront us.
These are among the real issues of 1960. And it is on the basis of these issues that the American people must make their fateful choice for their future.
In the past 40 months, I have toured every state in the Union and I have talked to Democrats in all walks of life. My candidacy is therefore based on the conviction that I can win both the nomination and the election.
I believe that any Democratic aspirant to this important nomination should be willing to submit to the voters his views, record and competence in a series of primary contests. I am therefore now announcing my intention of filing in the New Hampshire primary and I shall announce my plans with respect to the other primaries as their filing dates approach.
I believe that the Democratic Party has a historic function to perform in the winning of the 1960 election, comparable to its role in 1932. I intend to do my utmost to see that that victory is won.
For 18 years, I have been in the service of the United States, first as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II and for the past 14 years as a member of the Congress. In the last 20 years, I have traveled in nearly every continent and country–from Leningrad to Saigon, from Bucharest to Lima. From all of this, I have developed an image of America as fulfilling a noble and historic role as the defender of freedom in a time of maximum peril–and of the American people as confident, courageous and persevering.
It is with this image that I begin this campaign.
This story last updated in 2023.
Image of Senator John Kennedy campaigning from convertible courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Sven Walnum Photograph Collection.